Your Link Building Approach Outweighs Your Link Building Tactic

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Penguins and Pandas abound, and SEO has changed forever. Consultants everywhere debate just how many SEO tactics will become outdated in the years ahead, but is it possible we’re asking the wrong question? In reality, the tactic doesn’t matter nearly as much as the way you approach it. And there’s a very simple reason for that.

You Want the Links that Google Wants to See

It all comes down to this. It’s a bit strange to come right out and say it, but it’s true: you are in the business of satisfying the needs of a search engine monopoly. And the only reason that this search engine actually cares about their search results is simple: if users aren’t satisfied they will search elsewhere. That means they’ll stop clicking on AdWords and Google Shopping results, and Google loses money.

In short, Google wants sites to rank based on their merit, something that only the web at large is capable of determining. If your link profile says “I work hard to build links so that my site will rank,” Google hears “My site isn’t popular enough to earn links unless I build them myself.”

And so, no matter how much time and effort you pour into your hand-built links, the end result is the same thing: a link that you built. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s fair; that’s not the kind of link Google wants to see.

And that’s the key idea you need to keep in mind when you approach link building if you’re in it for the long haul.

Why Only the Approach Matters

If we think about the above in the context of tactics, we find ourselves in a scary position. It means that the only legitimate tactic is to build link bait and pray for results. But that’s not my argument, because this is not a post about tactics. It’s a post about your approach toward link building, and how it can revolutionize “old” tactics by giving them the armor necessary to guard against future updates.

Let’s start with the most extreme situation: paying for links. It’s a well known fact that bought links violate Google’s terms of service, so how is it even possible to consider doing it in a way will work long term?

Simple. You take yourself out of the equation. You look for a way to buy links that are genuinely earned. And I don’t mean that they “look” genuine or natural. I mean that they are.

  • You buy a Facebook ad to drive targeted visitors to your site who are likely to share
  • You pay a semi-famous blogger to write a guest post on your site and share it with their network
  • You acquire a blog, hire the blogger, and redirect their audience to your site
  • You buy space in a popular newsletter read by a large media audience

What about using guest posts as a method of building links? Some are already saying that this popular tactic is losing value. It’s easy to see how Google would eventually end up categorizing these as “unnatural” since they are built by you. But, again, it comes down to your approach.

  • Are your guest posts on sites with high enough quality that you have to have serious merit to get accepted?
  • Do your guest posts drive traffic to your site that could result in natural links?
  • Does your guest posting strategy increase your popularity on the web?

It comes back to the same things. As long as your link building strategy focuses on the right things, you’ll see positive results that will last.

Now, let’s get a little more specific.

Elements of Approach

Does Your Link Indicate Influence?

This is the first thing to shoot for if you’re concerned about long term rankings. The whole idea of a link-based search algorithm is that the sum of your links indicates the amount of influence you have in the online space. Ever since the introduction of Google, the link profile of the web has become “tainted” with links that don’t indicate influence.

Google’s primary goal with link-based updates, then, is to identify just how much influence each link actually indicates. Focus on building links that indicate influence and you will guard against these kinds of updates.

Does Your Link Build Influence?

A link that actually grows the amount of influence you have on the web is even more effective. These links increase your popularity and lead to the creation of natural links. An SEO strategy that focuses on growing influence is virtually unstoppable if implemented correctly. It leads to positive feedback loops that eventually help your site’s rankings take care of themselves (to some extent).

Does Your Link Serve Business Interests Unrelated to Rankings?

Links really can produce direct conversions and grow your audience, who knew? There’s nothing Google despises more than a site and a link profile built specifically for Google.

A good qualifying question is “Would I build this link if it were no-follow?” I prefer this to the more often stated: “Would I build this link if Google didn’t exist,” because it’s difficult to imagine what such a world would look like today, and it ignores second order effects that can have a positive influence on rankings.

Test this one out. It’s surprising how often you’ll find yourself saying “no.” Many supposedly “high authority” sites send a surprisingly small amount of referral traffic or lead to a small number of conversions (even counting subscriptions).

Put simply, if you build a business around referrals instead of rankings, and you’ll see your rankings go through the roof.

So let’s hear your input. Does approach always trump tactics?

Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya

Co-Founder at E2M
Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder of E2M, a digital marketing agency and, an executive branding & content marketing agency. Pratik has been featured on... Read Full Bio
Pratik Dholakiya
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  • Brian Alpert

    I agree 100%. Well maybe 95%, since I’m sure there can be fringe cases where someone that does the right things for the wrong reasons might be better than a well-meaning but severely misguided individual. But outliers aside, I’ve always been a fan of the approach > tactics idea. I hear and read a lot about how SEO is constantly completely changing, and how anything you learned 2 weeks ago is useless 2 weeks from now, but I feel like that’s only true if you base your entire strategy on “WHICH factors are being measured?” without consider “WHY are they being measured?”

  • Agreed Pratik! Quality and relevant links earned naturally, either via social media shares or by any other quality means is what Google is looking for, Google doesn’t like the to see a webmaster building free for all links manually from low quality spammy sites. Google wants to rank the content higher in the serps based on number and the authority or credibility of people recommending it to others.

  • I often use a podcast analogy – if there is a big podcast in the niche you are working in, being interviewed or mentioned on that podcast will generate a whole bunch of exposure which is of course hugely valuable yet has no link. If we can think in terms of exposure and get talked about or talking in the right places, the rest should do itself.

    Another good post man, your on fire of late. 🙂

  • unagi

    Hey, great post – though i admit to being one of the very few who whenever that big old supposed to be ‘rhetorical’ questions comes up… ‘if you’re building for the long term’ – i gotta say frankly, my answer is usually NO.

    I’m a free-agent affil. marketer who isn’t building a ‘brand’ (well ok fine, i am in a couple cases where im sorta buildin out like 4 authority sites in my niche, but i will only say sorta as im using the brand aspect as a test out of my many tests on my many many sites….) call me evil, bad or whatever no worries…. the thing is i do actually feel that i do better and feel more secure by running loads of sites – i have hundreds of aged domains to build my own links with microsites – thousands of web2s that yes i run – and many of my sites i treat as semi disposable. Not cause i really deep down want them to be, but i like the creative ability to push new ideas and combinations of frankly fun seo linkbuilding tactics that just doesnt exist on the google kosher side of the fence. …

    NOW i do have big time limits which is why i don’t feel that i am hurting anyone – A) i would never ever do what i do for client projects (that’s one reason i stopped doing those about 2 years ago… i cant fathom a worse hell than to be answerable to a client with the ups and downs of serps and google’s – yes monopoly – and the collateral damage ive seen occur to undeserving sites (if mine are hit ok, i broke big Gs rules and move on…. and unless deindexed those sites become another tool in the whole sytem)….

    can you buy links safely? i didnt buy links til (well not in the buy buy links kind of way) til recently ive been dabling with it and seeing some very insanely good results…. but generally id rather spend 1-2k on a nice aged domain, build it out a bit (not crummy usually) but all basically to give myself links….

    by always having at least 20-40 sites on the go i can rank for many terms (yes they are hosted all over the place) but also if i am running somewhat different tests and techniques on them when google updates i lose one or two and im still doing fine… black hat maybe. But #2) i would never do things morally that dont pass my standards – which mostly means no neg seo, and no way id ever partake in hardcore blackhat stuff where links are hacked sites with hidden divs (even though it drives me insane to see a top competitor doing this with about 50k unique domains and over a million backlinks in 6 months and ranking awesome…. still i wont go there, ill pay for links and if im not feeling like i want to burn my sites too quick – yes you can do it safely – its OLD standard fare… you send them to an intermediary… a nice web2 or even better a nice aged pr domain in my niche – not to rank but to send off links from there to my money sites. (yes known as link laundering).

    For me the key is i am only answerable to myself, im not breaking the law, only GOOGLEs TOS (which i admit to having very little respect for)…. my ranked sites arent crap – they have solid content and offer good value, but as much as people say ‘keywords are old not seo 2013’ or ‘search is totally different now’ – guess what, im ranking better than i ever have – sure google will knock me down in a few spots again soon im sure…. oh well i made tens of thousands of dollars in the meantime and didnt do anything bad in the meantime as i see it (i dont cookie stuff, i may do some forms of cloaking etc – but frankly that offers users a better not worse experience than if they went to the content they clicked on… its not my main technique but my ‘strategy’ is in the joy and INSANE SKILL BTW (i do get a little annoyed at hearing people thing that “black hat” or whatever is some lazy way out….) frankly i think to do it right takes a heck of a lot more skill (and creative thinking) than anything i see being talked about as ‘kosher’ techniques… which are all about manipulation one way or other however you slice it….

    LASTLY one thing i will say that i respectfully do not agree with is the thing about nofollow

    Nofollow can be AWESOME. I care so much more about ‘authority/trust’ than say PR (why i swear by linkresearchtools and lesser extent majestic trust flow… these come beautifully off nice wikipedia links and the like which no i dont make but i buy domains with them…. do they help a site rank? um, yeah… more than almost anything these days. ive tested and tried it in many shapes and forms and variations – and I will say that nofollow is – whether indirect or not – (assuming of course from a trustworthy link) – and no i didn’t leave a web address in my comment here! but if i did and you allowed it, it would be nofollow (i assume) and it would help my site rank (along with the rest of the mix). but it could be the missing piece to give it a trust boost to jump ahead as power dofollow links are not exactly difficult to get – by making em, buying em, buying domains that have them, and being creative and smart about it … i know its not for everyone – but for those who are good at IM with a specialty in SEO, it can easily be a smarter business model IMHO to actually go about things exactly how google tells me not to. It’s working better than any time since Penguin, but ONLY for those willing to go the distance, build massive networks and keep them to themselves…. etc. worth it? you bet. and a lot of fun. And not something i plan on doing forever or ever the ‘long term’ ….

  • I agree with you Pratik. Google wants only great quality web content to be ranked higher. Of course quality like via social networks, blog comments or forum links, matters. But how long? One should think about the future Armour your are talking